Have you ever had people out against you, looking for an opportunity to take you down?
This is how it was for Jesus, but He never let it distract Him from His divine purpose. He did not always ignore them, confronting them when necessary but He continued to be about His Father's will.
We need to stop being put on the ring just trying to defend ourselves all the time. God wants His children aggressive not passive, throwing punches against the enemy not retreating. We must remember we are not fighting against flesh and blood....
Jesus while eating at Simon's home is anointed by expensive perfume over the head by a woman. Some of those at the table are indignant and yell at the woman that this oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor.
We must be cautious not to stand between God and His will because of our views. We are to acknowledge God in everything to assure what we are thinking is correct.
God's ways are above our ways. There is a bigger picture we miss if we look at a situation in our own limited perspective. This woman was Prophetically attuned to what was about to come while those at the table were not. She was preparing Jesus for His death.
Jesus told them that what this woman did will never be forgotten. God may lead us in a way that others will not accept and even highly oppose, but we must be obedient for we live to please God not man.
Betrayal (Mark 14:10-26)
Those who have power often experience betrayal. People will come alongside someone for a time but due to jealousy and greed will desire the power they have, and turn against them. Power can corrupt the most faithful followers. We must all stand guard and walk in discernment because it can be the people closest to us that betray us.
The religious leaders were plotting against Jesus trying to find a way to trap Him, and then Judas shows up willing to betray His Master. These leaders are thrilled, they have a spy now, someone within Jesus circle that can take Him down.
Jesus always knew Judas would betray Him but also He knew His heavenly Father would use it all for His divine purpose. When we discern evil intentions in another we need to ask God how to deal with it. Exposing it right away seems right but it might not fit God's plan.
Jesus was human, He felt what we feel, it could not have been easy to be at supper with Judas knowing what he just had done. Jesus though does bring it to light, He says in Mark 14:18 that "someone at this table will betray me." He then explains how "terrible it will be for the one who betrays the Son of God. That it would be better if he had never been born." This act cursed the name of Judas, nobody could have that name again and not be thought of as a betrayer.
Jesus has communion with His disciples which is our highest purpose to be in continual fellowship with God, partaking in the life of Christ through the shedding of His blood.
If we try to be a Christian without being in communion with Christ we will betray Him. For apart from Him we can do nothing. What we try to do will misrepresent Christ and be used as an excuse for people to turn against Him.
Deserted (Mark 14:27-31)
We have all heard the cliche "It's lonely at the top." People strive to get to the top and often those who help them get there are now the ones that try to get them down. Power often corrupts the individuals who have it and those around them that want it.
When people's expectations are not met and decisions made are not what others desire the people begin to desert the leaders they once followed.
Jesus says the prophecy "God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered," is about to be fulfilled. Peter says "if everyone deserts you, I never will." Later, Peter does deny Jesus three times as Jesus had proclaimed. These disciples were only willing to follow Jesus as far as it was good for them when it was possible that they may die for following Jesus they were like forget you.
How far are you willing to follow Jesus? The Bible says if you are not willing to deny yourself and pick up the cross, you are not worthy of Him.
As leaders, we must choose to obey God even if it means losing family and friends. Our decisions may not be popular and cause persecution, but nevertheless, "not my will but yours oh Lord, my God, my Redeemer."
WAKE UP (Mark 14:32-52)
Spirit led prayer is what infuses our being with God’s heart. As we see here at the garden of Gethsemane this will at times lead us to experience great grief as we feel His pain for the lost and dying world.
God often calls us to be the answer to what we pray which may mean experiencing great suffering. Jesus Himself asked if the suffering of the cross could be taken away. Since we are human like Christ we should never expect to want to suffer, yet through the power of Jesus we can say, “nevertheless not my will, but your will be done, Father.”
The disciple's way of handling all that was going on was by sleeping. Many believers are asleep and not in prayer, they don’t carry the heart of God and therefore are unwilling to carry the cross. They desire an easy, comfortable, self-gratifying way to Heaven. But the Word of God says “wide is the path to destruction and many are those that follow, but narrow is the way to everlasting life and few are those that find it.”
Most Christians are not interested in prayer and evangelism but they sure love the prophetic, healing, and the supernatural. God’s heart is centered on the first two, and the miracles rarely come unless one is prayed up and evangelizing others. So what happens is people are out chasing the supernatural going from conference to conference rather than following the great commission where signs and wonders become a regular occurence.
Why do believers give into temptation so easy? The answer is Mark 14:38. Lack of prayer; “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.”
Because of the disciple's spiritual weakness, they were not ready to handle the betrayal and arrest of Jesus but rather reacted in anger not seeing the bigger picture and then in fear deserting Jesus.
Sunday September 24th
I heard a story about these two olives, one black olive, and one green olive, who were best friends, One day they were walking together down the street. They started to cross the street when a speeding car came around the corner and ran over the green olive. The black olive called 911 and helped care for his injured friend as best he could until the ambulance arrived. The injured green olive was taken to the emergency room at the hospital and rushed into surgery. After a long and agonizing wait, a doctor finally appeared. He told the black olive, "I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that your friend is going to pull through." "The bad news is that he's going to be a vegetable for the rest of his life".
This chapter includes Jesus teaching on the Mount of Olives, where he speaks prophetically about three things: the coming destruction of the Jerusalem temple; future persecutions that his disciples will face; and the events that will precede his second coming. Look at verses 1-2:
As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”
This temple was really quite magnificent. Herod the Great had rebuilt the temple using marble and gold. The outer court measured five hundred by three hundred yards, and it was bordered by walls of massive white stones, some of which were sixteen feet long.
But Jesus predicts that a day is coming when not one stone will be left stacked on top of another stone. And this is exactly what happened when Jerusalem was attacked and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman general Titus, less than 50 years after Jesus prophesied it.
But to the disciples, this kind of talk was way too incredible to be true, so they ask Jesus to explain how and when this is going to happen:
3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6 Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 8 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.
So the disciples ask Jesus “when will these things be”. Their question is mainly related to Jesus’ prediction regarding the destruction of the temple, but Jesus’ reply seems to include both that event and also the end time events leading to up to his second coming.
In verse 6, Jesus warns that “Many will come saying, ‘I am He!’. And in fact, many men like Bar Kochba, the leader of a Jewish rebellion against the Romans, claimed to be the messiah. Even in our generation we have had men like Rev. Sun Young Moon and other cult leaders who have claimed to be the messiah.
Jesus also warned that we can expect wars and rumors of wars, along with earthquakes and famines, but He says that we shouldn’t be afraid.
He refers to these signs as simply “birth pains”.
The Apostle Paul used similar words in Romans 8:22
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
What does this childbirth analogy tell us? We know that birth pains increase in frequency and intensity as the time of birth approaches (so I’ve been told).
Therefore we can expect wars, earthquakes and famines to get more intense and more frequent before the return of Jesus.
Then there is more bad news as well:
9 “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10 The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.
So as believers we can certainly expect various levels of persecution before Jesus returns, and so we shouldn’t be surprised if and when it happens. Jesus also tells us that the gospel must be preached to all the nations before he returns, which should cause us to get serious about supporting missionaries!
One commentary compares those two things this way:
“The time between the resurrection of Christ and His Second Coming is not simply a time of suffering and persecution, but a time of grace and of evangelism throughout the earth.”
By the way, Jesus’ statement that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” doesn’t mean that salvation is something that is earned by our faithfulness, (I endured, so now I’m saved) but rather that our faithfulness is proof that we are truly saved!
Then Jesus describes an event that was definitely connected to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, but might also be connected to His second coming:
14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; 16 and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. 17 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18 But pray that it may not happen in the winter. 19 For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20 Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.
Okay, so for starters, who or what is the “abomination of desolation”?
Daniel 11:31 says:
“Forces from him (a king from the North) will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.”
This verse raises an interesting concept which is sometimes referred to as multiple fulfillments.
Daniel’s prophecy was clearly fulfilled in 168 b.c. when a man named Antiochus Epiphanes set up a pagan altar and sacrificed a pig in the Jewish temple. But Jesus couldn’t have been referring to that episode, because it had already happened when he was speaking this to his disciples. Then in a.d. 70 that same prophecy was definitely fulfilled again when Titus, the Roman general who later became the emperor, sacked and desecrated the temple.
If Jesus was only prophesying about the destruction of the temple, then we don’t need to worry about a third fulfillment, but some people believe that this was also an end-times prophesy, which means that if the temple ever gets rebuilt again, we may see one more “abomination of desolation”, perhaps even the antichrist!
So just in case it happens in our lifetimes, let’s look at the instructions that Jesus gave his followers:
The first thing he tells them is to “flee to the mountains”. When the Romans were on their way to attack Jerusalem, the members of a certain Jewish community hid their precious documents in caves high up in the mountains overlooking the Dead Sea. We now refer to those papers as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many Christians also left Jerusalem prior to that time, probably because Jesus had warned them to, and they founded a church fifty miles north of Jerusalem in a safer area.
Should we also be prepared to flee to the mountains? Well if you ask Barbara Mooney, she will tell you that she, and others as well, are making plans on heading to the high country if things get bad!
How bad could it get? How bad did things get back in Jerusalem? In verse 19 Jesus says “For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will.”
The Jewish historian Josephus described the destruction of the temple as a catastrophe of supernatural dimensions. According to Josephus the suffering in Jerusalem was unparalleled in human history.
In verse 22 Jesus predicts that there will be signs and wonders, but not the good kind.
Even the enemy can create counterfeit signs, so we must be on guard because these false signs are designed: “to lead astray, if possible, the elect”. And the elect means us as believers. Not all signs and wonders are from God. Make sure you are listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit and using the gift of discernment to reveal the source!
Those verses are all part of Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question about the coming destruction of the temple. In these next verses Jesus seems to again be referring to his second coming:
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken.26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.”
The fact that Jesus will be sending angels to gather his people from the four corners of the earth sounds like a description of the rapture. What else might happen around that same time? Several things, including:
The heavens tremble,
The sun and the moon grow dark
And the stars lose their brightness.”
28 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.29 Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.32 But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
33 “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. 34 It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert.35 Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’
In referring to the “fig tree” Jesus is simply saying that just as there are signs of what is about to come in the natural realm (such as fig trees blossoming near the start of summer) so too there are signs that we should be able to discern in the spiritual realm. If you can tell when summer is drawing near, then you also should be able to sense when the return of Christ is getting closer.
But knowing that we are getting closer isn’t the same as knowing exactly when Jesus will return. In fact, he tells us very clearly that the “day or hour no one knows”. This means we must always be ready, always be living our lives in such a way that when he returns he won’t find us asleep on the job! So what does Jesus say to close out his teaching?
What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!’
The only person we are to fear is God, we should let nobody hold us back by intimidation from obeying His commands and speaking the truth.
Jesus gave the story of a vineyard where wicked farmers killed every servant that the owner sent to collect the harvest, even his only son. The religious leaders knew this story was about them, and now they wanted to arrest Jesus, but they were afraid of the crowds.
Jesus was not afraid to confront and bring to light the evil of others. The world is full of evil leaders, sadly some of them claim to be Christians. As the Father leads we are to boldly stand against and expose the wrong evil leaders are doing. The worse wrong is when those who know better remain silent.
What do we have to fear? Death is gain! So be bold, be brave, God is looking for people that will not back down to no one but Him.
Some people can be so nice but you know it is not genuine, they have an agenda. The Pharisees say "Jesus, we know how honest you are and you play no favorites, so tell us should we pay taxes to Caesar?"
The crowd was the disenfranchised who was tired of the oppression of the Romans, they would want Jesus to speak for them against the unjust tax system. Then the Pharisees could use His statement against the Roman rulers to shut this man up.
Jesus caught it and said, "you hypocrites, why do you try to trap me?" Then He asked "whose description is on it? They said Caesar's. Well, He said to render to Caesar's what is Caesar's and what is God's to God." They were all amazed at His answer.
We often let confrontation bring the worst out of us, we name call, blame others, get offended, etc. God wants us to learn to stay cool, acknowledge God and speak forth the wisdom that He shares. God has insight that will silence our enemies every time if we just give Him our ear.
We must pay our taxes, for we are to abide by the law, despite if we agree what the government is doing or not. We are to honor the position of all our leaders despite our disagreements, trusting that God will deal with them in due time.
We are to give to God what is His which is our entire lives, including all we own and all our talents and gifts for His purposes.
Let us not play the hypocrite and act religious like the Pharisees but rather be genuine in our faith towards God, living surrendered lives that He may be greatly glorified.
You Don't Know Squat!
Do you ever feel constantly attacked? Where so many people are against you questioning your every move. Well nobody had it as bad as Jesus, He was constantly questioned, his enemies trying to make a public spectacle of Him. Yet, every time Jesus responded with such wisdom that they left silenced.
This time the Sadducees who say there is no resurrection questioned Jesus that if a man died with seven brothers and one after the other married the widow because each of them died one at a time as well, who would the lady be married to in heaven?
These guys are supposed to be masters of the scriptures but Jesus tells them the problem you have is you don't know the scriptures or the power of God. That is everyone's problem who misinterpret scripture or just are ignorant of what it really says. Natural understanding cannot perceive spiritual truth.
We see this example with Nicodemus the Pharisee who came to Jesus at night to check him out. Jesus told him you must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus was like huh! How can one reenter their mother's womb? He knew the scriptures but really didn't understand them because he was not born again.
One must know God personally in all His power to understand who He is. To be born again you must acknowledge your need for God and accept Him as Lord. Then the Holy Spirit comes into your being and you now can perceive and truly know God.
Jesus now tells them don't you see in the scriptures that you will neither be married or given to marriage they will be like the angels in heaven. Which means perfect beings in lack of nothing. Then he points out where in the writing of Moses that it states the reality of the resurrection.
What's Really Important?
Do you know someone who makes a big deal out of nothing or who is so proud of something that really doesn't matter?
The religious leaders in Jesus time were full of themselves. They thought they were all that. I have been around religious leaders in these times that act the same way.
A teacher of the religious law asks Jesus what is the greatest commandment? Jesus responded by sharing two commandments which are the essence of all the ten. First, it is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is just as important which is to love our neighbor as ourselves.
So what we see here as evident in 1 Corinthians 13; Love is all that matters. If whatever we do, ministry oriented or not, does not come out of the love of God it amounts to nothing.
The teacher of the religious law says to Jesus so love is more important than the legal requirements of offerings and sacrifice? Jesus responds to Him and says you are not far from the Kingdom of God. He unlike many of the religious leaders, "got it." Question is, do we?
I still find Christians so caught up in that which does not matter. Fighting over trivial things. Divided by fleshly matters.
The world needs love, if we could just offer God's unconditional, mercy filled love, our fellowships would always be growing.
Before this can occur we must fully accept God's love where we allow Him to heal every wound. For we can not offer that which we have not yet fully received.
The world's love has limits what should define Christianity is that it is made of a people who love without limits.
Fakes & Phonies
Have you ever been an environment where people didn't give you much value or worth? This is understandable in the world but I have experienced in some Christian leadership circles that if you haven't graduated from a prestigious college with theological degrees and have a huge world impacting ministry that they give you very little regard. I understand that they are busy and only have time for so called "important people." But, C'mon is this the Way of Jesus?
Jesus explains to the people that though the religious leaders say that the Messiah must be the Son of David, clearly they have it all wrong. They have misinterpreted the scriptures. These leaders were trying continually to discredit Jesus but they were nothing but fakes and phonies. People will discredit us like they did Jesus, but we are to remember that our worth and value come from God. The Bible says we are a "royal priesthood, a holy nation, a chosen people." "If God is for us then who can be against us." When people are not rightly aligned with God they wrongfully interpret the scriptures for they don't know God's heart.
Jesus reveals the hypocrisy of these leaders; they parade around adorned with fancy clothes, sitting in high places above others, praying in a way to impress. Yet these people cheat widows. Some people start off well but over time due to the business of ministry they stop abiding in Christ and therefore what comes out of them is not good fruit. As John 15 says if the branches wither and produce no fruit they will be cut off and burned. When leaders become proud they must be humbled.
At the judgment seat of God, we will have to account for what we did with our faith? The excuse that the actions of Christian leaders caused you to go on the sideline will not line up with God's righteous standard.
We are not to be moved by anyone but God. We need to stop pointing fingers at others and just let God be God. There are too many people leaving the church because of the actions of others. Who gives us the right to leave a fellowship because we are offended? The question you need to ask yourself, Is Jesus Lord, or are you?
The Poor and the Powerless
In the Kingdom of God, the poor are powerful. How is that possible? The poor are those who realize their need for God, it is those who give whatever they have to God.
Jesus said it is difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God, why? Because it is easy for them to think they don't need God. How can we think money can take care of all our needs? We see with the hurricanes in Houston and Florida how fragile life can be, how quick life can change for both the financially rich and poor.
Jesus observed the rich giving large amounts of money in the offering collection, then he saw a poor widow give two small coins. Yet, He says that the widow gave the most because she gave all she had. It is not about the amount of money it is all about the state of the heart.
The Kingdom of God is for the poor and powerless those who acknowledge that apart from God they are nothing, they are those who surrender all that they have to God. It is the poor and powerless that is truly rich and powerful for the Kingdom God.
Sunday September 10th
Here’s a little knock-knock joke to start off your Sunday morning:
Figs the doorbell, it’s broken!
Chapter 11 of the Gospel of Mark has several references to figs, including in the very first verse. See if you can catch it as I read verses 1-3:
As they approached Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples, 2 and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, on which no one yet has ever sat; untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ you say, ‘The Lord has need of it’; and immediately he will send it back here.”
Did you catch the reference to figs? Probably not, but that’s okay.
You see the name of the town of Bethphage in Hebrew means “house of unripe figs.”
The prefix “Beth” in Hebrew means “house”. Bethlehem was actually the “House of Bread” and Bethany meant “house of sadness”, but Bethphage was known as the “house of unripe figs” which will have a significant meaning as this chapter unfolds.
Jesus tells two of his disciples to go ahead into town and there “you will find” a donkey colt. This simple statement is an example of the supernatural prophetic knowledge of Jesus. He is already aware that a donkey will be waiting.
The Old Testament had prophesied about Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry in Zechariah 9:9
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
These verses clearly identify this donkey-riding king as the Messiah, coming to bring salvation to Israel.
But a prophet is only recognized if his words come true. Here we see that both Zechariah’s words and Jesus’ words were being fulfilled:
4 They went away and found a colt tied at the door, outside in the street; and they untied it. 5 Some of the bystanders were saying to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They spoke to them just as Jesus had told them, and they gave them permission. 7 They brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it; and He sat on it. 8 And many spread their coats in the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. 9 Those who went in front and those who followed were shouting:
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord;
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David;
Hosanna in the highest!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.
The idea of throwing palm branches and coats on the road ahead of the donkey was a recognition of Jesus’ royalty.
The word Hosanna is a Greek translation of the Hebrew words for “Save us . . . O Lord” The crowd is basically shouting phrases from Psalm 118:25-26
“O Lord, do save, we beseech You;
O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord;
We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.”
Okay, so now let’s get back to the figs!
12 On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry.13 Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening.
It’s interesting that one writer described two events as a couple of Jesus’s most misunderstood actions:
(1) cursing the fig tree
(2) driving out the money changers from the temple (which comes next)
But Mark apparently tells us these two stories back to back because these two events help explain each other. It has been said that Mark used a sandwich technique to tell these stories, where he starts with the one story, goes to a different story, and then comes back to the original story. Mark starts out telling the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree, then interrupt that story to describe Jesus driving out the money changers from the temple and then he returns to the story of the fig tree. This is Mark’s way of telling us that these two events are connected to each other, and that if we understand the fig tree thing, we’ll understand the meaning of the cleansing of the temple as well.
Many people have wondered why Jesus even cursed this particular fig tree. This is Jesus’ last recorded miracle in Mark’s gospel, and it seems a bit odd that it’s kind of a miracle of destruction. Since Mark tells us that it wasn’t even the season for figs, the fact that Jesus is expecting to find figs on this tree seems unreasonable to us at first.
But fig trees are unique from most other trees because they sometimes produce fruit before they produce leaves. So the fact that this tree had leaves on it does suggest that some kind of fruit might still be left over on it. So it wasn’t all that unreasonable after all for Jesus to expect to find some figs on this tree.
Jesus’ actions here with the fig tree, just like the action of cleansing the Temple which is coming next, are pointing to a greater, deeper meaning, concerning what will soon happen to Jerusalem, Israel and the Temple itself.
The Old Testament prophets spoke about fig trees as referring to Israel’s status before God:
The destruction of the fig tree is associated with God’s judgment in Hosea 2:12 “I will ruin her vines and her fig trees, which she said were her pay from her lovers; I will make them a thicket, and wild animals will devour them.”
Jesus curses this fig tree for making a display of being alive but having no fruit, just as He will now judge the temple and predict its destruction for the same reason.
Remember that Jesus is on his way to the temple, and what happens here with the fig tree is symbolic of what Jesus is about to do in the temple. There’s a passage from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah that’s especially relevant to what’s happening here. This passage is found in Jeremiah chapter 8, verses 11-13.
They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. "Peace, peace," they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD. I will take away their harvest…There will be no grapes on the vine. There will be no figs on the tree, and their leaves will wither. What I have given them will be taken from them.
The people of Jeremiah’s day were minimizing the seriousness of their sins. So God says he’ll judge Israel, and that like a fig tree with no figs, Israel will wither.
Now Jesus is going to use that same image from Jeremiah and he is applying it to the temple in his own generation over five hundred years later. By having lots and lots of leaves on it the fig tree showed promise to be fruitful, but in the end it didn’t produce anything. This was also true of the temple. There was a lot of image, but no substance.
The Jewish temple at that time looked quite impressive. The temple courts were five football fields long. During the Passover celebration well over 200,000 sacrificial lambs were sacrificed on the altar of this incredible temple. But the temple wasn’t producing the fruit of godly people. The temple had become all leaves and no fruit (all show and no go).
Okay so let’s see what happens next:
15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; 16 and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. 17 And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a robbers’ den.” 18 The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.
So, as I said, sandwiched in the middle of the story of the cursing of the fig tree is this cleansing of the temple.
Jesus was judging the temple because of the dishonesty of the people who were selling sacrificial animals and exchanging coins there. Jesus is upset because they’ve commercialized the act of worship at the temple for profit. So in his anger, Jesus calls the temple "a den of thieves," because of these salesmen and money changers peddling their wares for a profit.
But if the fig tree symbolizes the temple, then it’s important to recognize that Jesus isn’t just cleansing the temple, he’s actually condemning it. In fact, two chapters later Jesus is going to tell his followers plainly that this temple is going to be destroyed soon. Remember, Jesus didn’t cleanse the fig tree, he cursed it. He’s doing the same thing here to the temple by pronouncing judgment on what it has become.
The key to understanding Jesus’ action here are the two passages from the Old Testament that he quotes in verse 17. The first Old Testament passage he quotes is Isaiah 56:6-7, which promises a future time when people formerly excluded from temple worship will be welcomed.
“And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD and serve him, to live the name of the LORD and to worship him…these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations"
God wanted the temple to be a house of prayer for all nations, but the Jewish temple excluded all foreigners.
The other text Jesus quotes here comes from Jeremiah chapter 7:
Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!"…Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods…and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe"-safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? (Jeremiah 7:4, 9-11 NIV).
In Jeremiah’s day, the people were living like heathens throughout the week, and then believing that they were safe from God’s judgment because they went to the temple on the Sabbath. They were trusting in the temple for their safety, rather than trusting in God.
Jesus is saying that the temple of his generation has degenerated into the same sorry state of affairs that it had in Jeremiah’s generation. Instead of being a place of prayer for all peoples, it was turned into a place where disobedient people thought they could hide safely from the wrath of God.
They no longer worshiped God in the temple, they worshiped the temple itself. The temple had the same problem that the fig tree had: it looked all leafy and alive from a distance but there was no fruit inside its walls. Jesus didn’t go there just to reform or cleanse the temple. He went there to pronounce a final judgment on it.
Jesus is there to declare that this temple is doomed and there’s now a new temple for God’s people. Jesus himself is that new temple; he’s the place where people can find forgiveness and cleansing from their sins. And ultimately we ourselves have become the temple of God’s presence by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
1 Corinthians 6:19
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
Okay, are you ready to see the other half of the sandwich? Here comes the fig tree again!
19 When evening came, they would go out of the city.
20 As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. 21 Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.
24 Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. 25 Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”
So let’s review this “story sandwich”:
First, we have the start of the fig tree story. Jesus sees a fig tree that has no figs so he curses it. He wants to make it absolutely clear to his disciples what he is about to do in the temple. Jesus was basically giving them an object lesson about fruitfulness. If something wasn’t going to produce the fruit it was supposed to, it was going to be destroyed.
Next, Jesus declares God’s judgment that the temple has become a den of thieves. Essentially, because the people of Israel did not repent, God was going to destroy the temple for its unfruitfulness.
Then when they leave the temple, they see that the fig tree has already withered and died, which is a prophetic statement about what is going to happen to the temple in the near future.
Jesus tells his disciples that if they tell this mountain to throw itself into the sea then it will be done. Notice that he says “this mountain”.
Jesus was obviously pointing at a particular mountain. There is only one mountain he could possibly be referring to; the mountain that the temple was built on. This was soon going to end up destroyed, or “cast into the sea”.
So given all of this what we might say is that Jesus was acting out a prophetic parable in these two events. By turning over the tables, Jesus was stopping the temple from functioning temporarily. For a brief period of time no one could buy or sell anything, and therefore the sacrifices would have to stop. Without the sacrifices the temple had no purpose to exist. Jesus was acting out what would happen after the destruction of the temple because it no longer had any purpose in the New Covenant. Jesus’ sacrifice would put an end to the need for temple sacrifices and even the temple itself.
And ironically it was probably this very act that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Why? Because the temple was also the power base of the Jewish leaders. Jesus was essentially condemning their whole system, not just the temple. And this obviously did not go over too well with them!
Jesus was not just talking about the destruction of the temple but God’s plan to replace the temple with him.
We can see the confrontation building in the last few verses of this chapter:
27 They came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to Him, 28 and began saying to Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?” 29 And Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me.” 31 They began reasoning among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From men’?”—they were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet. 33 Answering Jesus, they said, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
By asking whether John the Baptist received his authority from heaven or from man, Jesus perfectly silences the claims of the chief priests that He needed to get His “official” authority from them.
Look at what the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 1:11-12
“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ answer to the chief priests is actually a way of asking them this ultimate question:
“Why don’t you recognize and submit to My authority?”
That’s what we all need to ask ourselves once in a while, isn’t it? Are we walking in obedience to the authority of Jesus as the true Lord of our lives? Am I living according to the truth that he has revealed to me about who he is and who I am in him?
When I am living in complete submission to his will and plan for my life, then I will be fruitful for his purposes.
In John 15:4-5 Jesus tells us:
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
We abide in Jesus when we yield our lives totally to his authority. That’s when we learn to produce more than just leaves – not just the appearance of Christianity, but the real thing – we have figs!